How to manually level a 3D printer bed

Whether you are using a brand new 3D printer for the first time or notice that your prints are patchy or worse yet not sticking, you need to level the print bed. Entry-level 3D printers, even those among the top best 3d printers, often do away with luxuries like color displays, direct drives, and auto bed leveling probes. Don’t worry, learning how to level a 3D printer bed isn’t difficult; it just takes a little practice.

“Level the bed” is a bit of a misnomer. We’re actually “rasterizing” the print surface: making sure the nozzle is the same height on the bed at every point on the X and Y axes.

Level is a simple, if not precise, word that anyone can understand.

The biggest problem when manually leveling a 3D printer bed is finding the right distance between the nozzle and the print surface. Too far and your fingerprints won’t stick. Too close and you will damage the print surface.

Luckily for those of us stuck with manual 3D printer bed leveling, we don’t need to be laser precise. We are dealing with fractions of a millimeter, so very close we will get the quality we are looking for.

When do you need to upgrade a 3D printer bed?

  • After assembly and before your first impression.
  • After changing the nozzle, make sure the nozzle stays the correct distance from the bed.
  • Once a week. Even the best printer can fail calibration with use, so check your level every now and then.
  • After a failed impression. Prints don’t stick? You might be out of level.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

What you will need to level your 3D printer bed

  • A sheet of paper: This is used to gauge the distance between your nozzle and the print bed. Computer paper is a good choice, but a junk mail or post-it will do as well.
  • Filament: Load your printer with PLA to run a test print. PLA is a commonly used filament and adheres well without problems. we are using PLA Interior + Orange for this article.
  • Isopropylic alcohol: Clean the print surface before leveling. Filament never sticks well to a dirty bed.
  • Paper towels: To clean the bed.
  • Application of slicer: You will need to die-cut your test print – any die-cutter will do. We love to use Ultimaker Cura.
  • Test print at bed level: There are several files online, we will use the one from Thingiverse. It is sized for an Ender 3. You can size this to fit your printer bed or search for a test designed for your specific machine.
  • Your 3D printer: In this article we use a Creality Ender 3 Pro FDM 3D printer. The four-point print bed is similar to many popular 3D printers on the market today, including the Elegoo Neptune 2.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Prepare your printer

1. Clean the bed. Lightly rub the print surface with isopropyl alcohol and a paper towel to remove fingerprints and filament remnants.

2. Preheat your printer and your bed at its normal operating temperature. For PLA, we heat the printer to 200 ° on the nozzle and 60 ° on the bed. Wait at least 5-10 minutes for the printer to absorb heat.

Some experts believe that it is not necessary to preheat the bed, since the possibility of thermal expansion is very low. We prefer to level the bed under the same conditions we use when printing.

3. Printer home. This will bring it to position 0,0,0.

4. Check your printer controls for an option called bed leveling, leveling corners or bed screening. This option will move the printer around all four corners of the bed as you adjust the springs below.

Some Ender 3 models come with leveling aids installed. You will need to select “Disable Stepper Motors”, which disables the stepper motors and allows you to push in the printhead by hand.

Note: Our Ender 3 Pro has been upgraded to Marlin 2 firmware, which added a Bed Tramming routine.

5. Slide the printhead (or let the printer do it) to the first corner, centered more or less on the adjustment knob under the bed. Slide a piece of paper under the nozzle.

6. Use the adjustment knob under the bed to raise or lower the nozzle until it barely touches the paper.

Do this for the four corners and the center. Then start again. Leveling the bed is a balancing act where adjusting one corner can push the opposite corner apart.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Run a test print

1. Load a test print at bed level in the slicer of your choice. Since we are using a Creality Ender 3 Pro, we will be using one found on Thingiverse called “Ender level 3 bedrooms”. If your printer has a larger or smaller print area, adjust the x and y coordinates accordingly.

2. Reduce Z height to 0.4 for a single-layer printing test.

3. Clean the bed with isopropyl alcohol and a paper towel.

4. Execute the printing.

Diagnose the results

  • The nozzle is too close. If your nozzle is too close to the bed, it will pass through the filament, causing a rough and uneven surface. You might get fine spots where the plastic is pushed into the surface of the bed. It can be difficult to remove.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)
  • The nozzle is too far. If your nozzle is too far from the bed, there will be gaps between the lines of filament. The plastic lines appear rounded and may not stick to the bed at all.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)
  • The nozzle is right. When the nozzle is a perfect distance from the bed, it will appear slightly squashed or slightly flattened. The lines will blend into each other with a uniform look. There will be very little roughness.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

If the test print squares appear too far or too close to the nozzle, make any necessary adjustments and run the test print again.

3D printer bed leveling aids

It can be difficult to get a perfect first coat with manual 3D printer bed leveling. Here are some tips to try before you give up and buy a BL automatic touch sensor, which can be used to auto-level on an Ender-style 3D printer.

  • Clean the bed. A perfectly clean bed is extremely important for the bed’s grip. Even a few fingerprints can add enough grease that a print won’t stick.
  • Use a raft. Your slicer can place a thick first layer which helps tall or delicate prints stick. The downside is that you will have a rough surface at the bottom of your print. Rafts can be found under Build Plate Adhesion in Cura and under Support Material in PrusaSlicer. Other slicers have their raft options in other menus.
  • Use glue stick. A wash vanishing glue stick – the purple type – of the children’s craft aisle is a perfect grip aid. It deposits a sticky layer which helps the filament to adhere to the surface. Lightly spread the glue all over the bed, then rinse after 3 or 4 prints and reapply. No matter the brand, so don’t hesitate to refuel at the next back-to-school sale.
  • Support the bed. Warped beds are unfortunately common in inexpensive printers. If your bed seems lower or higher in the middle – and you have a removable printing surface – you can prop the bed up with foil, duct tape, or even a Post-It Note.

To prop up the bed

1. Remove the print surface.

2. Place a steel ruler or similar ruler on the bed and shine a flashlight behind.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

3. Notice how big the gap is and cut a piece of foil or duct tape about that size.

4. Place it on the printer bed and find the gaps with the ruler.

5. Layer additional pieces of foil or masking tape until the bed is almost flat.

6. Replace the bed surface and level the bed.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)